The Last Days of the American Male
An interview with journalist Hanna Rosin: Why she'll argue that "men are finished" at the Sept. 20 Slate/Intelligence Squared U.S. debate.
Hanna Rosin's 2010 Atlantic cover story, "The End of Men," was one of the most talked-about magazine articles in recent years. "Man has been the dominant sex since, well, the dawn of mankind," wrote Rosin, an award-winning journalist for Slate and the Atlantic. "But for the first time in human history, that is changing—and with shocking speed."
That shift, she says, hasn't showed signs of slowing in the past year. And that's why she'll debate for the motion that "men are finished" during the Sept. 20 live Slate/Intelligence Squared U.S. debate at NYU.
Why are men finished, exactly? Rosin says they've failed to adapt to a modern, postindustrial economy that demands a more traditionally—and stereotypically—feminine skill set (read: communication skills, social intelligence, empathy, consensus-building, and flexibility). Statistics show they're rapidly falling behind their female counterparts at school, work, and home. For every two men who receive a college degree, three women will. Of the 15 fastest-growing professions during the next decade, women dominate all but two. Meanwhile, men are even languishing in movies and on television: They're portrayed as deadbeats and morons alongside their sardonic and successful female co-stars.
I caught up with Rosin earlier this week to talk about the downside of female dominance, her own decidedly unfeminist upbringing, and how she plans to win the Sept. 20 debate. Excerpts from the interview are below.
Slate: What question or idea do you think will be at the core of the Sept. 20 debate?
Hanna Rosin: The core of the debate will be deciding whether these trends [of women pulling ahead] are real or not. We see all of these bits and pieces [of "The End of Men" trend] in the economy and in pop culture. But the core will be determining whether it's really true, or whether it's just a momentary fad. All these TV sitcoms that decided men are emasculated and men are finished: Are they just a fad of the moment, or do they reveal something real? I think it's hard for people to wrap their minds around the fact that it might be something real.
Slate: Is that something you experienced in the months after "The End of Men" came out—people having a hard time wrapping their mind around the concept?
Rosin: Not really so much, actually. The two kinds of responses I experienced were an annoyed feminist response, which was, 'this is an argument that comes up historically over and over again as a distraction from the real problems that are facing women.' And then on the other side [there's a response] from men who find it insulting. Like, "Don't you care about your sons? Don't you care about your husband?" People think it's an insulting way to frame the argument.
Slate: What are some of the biggest misconceptions you've had to respond to as a result of the "End of Men"? Did people misunderstand what you were trying to say at all?
Rosin: The question I always have to respond to is, '[if women are taking over] why are there so many more men in power?' If you look at Hollywood, or you look at the Fortune 500 list, or you look at politics, there's a disproportionate number of men in the higher positions of power.
Slate: Why is that, then?
Rosin: Men have been at this for 40,000 years. Women have been rising for something like 30 or 40 years. So of course women haven't occupied every single [high-powered] position. How would that be possible? The rise of women is barely a generation old. But if you look at everything else, like the median, the big bulge in the middle, it's just unbelievable what has happened: Women are more than 50 percent of the workforce, and they're more than 50 percent of managers. It's just extraordinary that that's happened in basically one generation. It seems like whatever it is that this economy is demanding, whatever special ingredients, women just have them more than men do.
Slate: Is the dominance of women right now a good thing?
Rosin: The dominance of women is a good and a bad thing. If you take the non-college-educated class, for example, the women are really, really struggling. They're holding down the jobs, they're going to school, they're raising the kids. One economist calls that situation "the last one holding the bag" theory. In other words, the reason that women are doing better than men is because the children are with them, and so they have to make ends meet. So they hustle in order to make ends meet, but their lives are really, really hard, and it's terrible for the children. And the fact that about one-fifth of American men are not working—we're almost at Great Depression levels—that's really terrible. And it doesn't seem to be getting any better. So, no, this isn't like, "yay, we won! yay, we triumphed!" It's actually really bad.
Photograph of Hann Rosin by Jona Frank.